The US patent and trademark office announced last Wednesday that it was cancelling the Washington Redskins Football team’s protection, but this decision doesn’t only concern the National Football League. Let me be perfectly clear – I recognize that their team name contains an ugly slur. I am in no way supporting the team’s decision to continue using it. I would not use the term to discuss anything other than the football team, but that is my choice. I can also choose not to buy tickets, merchandise, etc from people who say, do, or otherwise represent things I disagree with. There is a particular fast food restaurant chain I have not visited in twenty-six years for this reason.
Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote the line, I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it as a way of summarizing Voltaire’s beliefs on free speech.
The team has a right to call themselves what ever they want, use whatever logo they want. They are the ones expected to live or die by the consequences of that decision. Locals or visitors do not have to fill in the seats, just because there is a stadium. Networks would have just as much right to elect not to continue television contracts, or accept ad dollars.
As a patent holder as well as a copyright holder, I have always looked towards the US patent and trademark office as the agency that will protect my intellectual property from piracy. The public manner in which this announcement was made sends a message. Even though it was once protected, anyone will now be able to use the team’s logo in any manner of which they deem fit. Someone not affiliated with the organization could run a campaign and the team would no longer have a legal defense. It’s not piracy, it’s privateering.
While I appreciate the end result they are trying to achieve, I question the means. Their decision sets a very troubling precedent. In 2011, a new edition of Huckleberry Finn was released in which a certain other racial slur was edited out as if it had never been written. What if they hadn’t? What if the copyright was dropped altogether? Would there now be a flood of knock offs diluting the story to the point no one knew for sure whether or not they had Mark Twain’s original? Or would the story be pulled off the shelves altogether in the face of loss of profit for the publisher? In today’s world of e-books and other media you don’t need a fire to burn a book, just a few key strokes.
The recent commercials and satirical spotlights, attempting to change company’s position through a combination of education and shame, are by far a much more palatable means to the same end. I was lucky enough to attend a lunch with the Mayor of my hometown. We were free to ask whatever question we wanted. One of the first questions one of the other guests act was what was the city going to do to stop the late night comedians skewing of decisions the voters had made. I know then for a fact that satire and increased educational outreach have an impact. Those are the efforts we should be supporting. Not this tactic.
I enjoy writing on topics such as leadership and entrepreneurship. To be successful at either a person must be willing to take risks, roll up their sleeves, and do what has to be done to get their message out. I could easily play it safe. I could keep my opinion on this matter to myself and continue to write happy motivational pieces. I could keep my head down and tell myself there is nothing to be concerned about here. I like to think I am a good person. My work is more at risk by touching on this topic than from not, but bad things happen when good people say nothing.